Policy Threat, Partisanship, and the Case of the Affordable Care Act

Suzanne Mettler, Lawrence R. Jacobs, Ling Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How do political conditions influence whether public support develops for a new policy? Specifically, does the presence of partisan polarization and a viable threat to a policy's continuation prevent the emergence of such support? We propose a theoretical framework that considers how policy feedback may be affected by the presence or absence of both policy threat and polarization. We argue that a threat is likely to increase policy salience and trigger loss aversion, expanding policy feedback even amid strong partisanship. We examine the threat to the Affordable Care Act after Republicans won control of Congress and the White House and stood poised to act on their long promise to repeal the law. Five waves of panel data permit analysis of how individuals' responses to the law changed over time, affecting their support for it as well as their voting calculations. The results suggest that policy threat heightens the effect of policy feedback for some populations while depressing it for others, in some cases mitigating partisan polarization, and overall boosting program support.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-310
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 14 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award #69766. In addition, support was provided by Cornell University, including the Center for the Study of Inequality, the Department of Political Science; the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston; the Walter F. and Joan Mondale Endowment; and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association.


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